MWFA: Make Work Fun Again

 
Dick Beardsley, first place in the inaugural London Marathon & 1982 Boston Marathon 2nd place finisher.

Dick Beardsley, first place in the inaugural London Marathon & 1982 Boston Marathon 2nd place finisher.

Ann Bancroft, first woman to successfully finish a number of arduous expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic.

Ann Bancroft, first woman to successfully finish a number of arduous expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic.

 

Let’s All Agree to MWFA:
Make Work Fun Again

Never in my adult working life have I been as motivated, excited, and consistently gratified as I am right now. Don’t misunderstand me, though. A lot of what I’m curating is in very infant stages, so everything is new and exciting — kind of like a new relationship you’re trying not to mess up with your personality quirks and unavoidable emotional baggage. I am well aware that a work plateau is indubitably on the horizon, but the reason I’m in this current sweet spot is what interests me the most.

A majority of my time recently has been spent having in-depth conversations with facilitators and company leaders, discussing how best to bridge the gap between stagnation and growth as a team. The vagueness of these interactions is not to be overlooked. A common concern in the workplace—in addition to the newly minted medical diagnosis of burnout—is lack of creativity. We tend to get comfortable in our job descriptions (not a bad thing) and inevitably proceed to autopilot (not a great thing). I’m continuously intrigued by what it is that pushes our creativity and excitement back to the forefront of our minds.

I like to think that I am a poster child for switching careers at a time that I needed it the most. In 2012, after years of working in Marketing, I quit my job and moved to Thailand. The decision to do this didn’t come overnight — in fact, I had been plotting this switch on and off since I had graduated college. I knew I wanted to do more than rise the ranks as a Marketing professional. I found myself participating in poor lifestyle choices on a daily basis and my job became more about monetary gain than anything else. I was unhappy, under-appreciated, scarily unhealthy and totally off track with my personal values. To realize this at the age of 24 was a big “holy shit” moment. I had the rest of my twenties —seemingly the best years of my young adult life—ahead of me and I was spiraling toward a dead-end of overconsumption. I needed a change of scenery…and fast.

My story is not unlike a lot of Millennials. A single track job doesn’t seem to fit our generational desire for stimulation and excitement, but I will argue that we are a product of a side-hustle culture designed to move us ahead at our own (fast moving) pace. A corner office doesn’t have the pull for a lot of people my age in the sense that there is so much more to being content than a set salary and a gold name plate. That isn’t to say a corner office isn’t something to strive for — I love me a good window view — but the intrigue and desire to flourish runs deeper than that. It’s a visceral need for creative spark and fulfillment. Moving to Thailand was my (very dramatic) way of getting outside of the office to do something I hadn’t done since the beginning of college: have a meaningful experience.

A Meaningful Experience. I want to bottle this up and serve it to everyone who needs it - which, just so happens to be, a majority of us. The beauty of this is that meaningful experiences happen in a variety of ways - in line at the grocery store, while reading a book at bedtime, walking the dog, on vacation, during a long run, at breakfast while eating a life-changing cinnamon roll. The main quality of a meaningful experience is easy to determine: it has significant impact on you. It’s meaningful.

Only recently did I realize why work became fun again. I have been busy hustling back and forth to school, reading new articles and journals and books, getting inspiration from new people and places and, above all, meaningful interactions and experiences.

Bridge Building at The Leadership Center at Sugar Lake Lodge

Bridge Building at The Leadership Center at Sugar Lake Lodge

I listened to Ann Bancroft, a prominent author and female polar explorer, discuss her life’s work becoming the first woman to reach both poles via the ice. After her presentation, we had a conversation about taking risks and the benefits of getting outside of your comfort zone. This turned into further conversation about packing in these life lessons into multi-day programs available for everyone from high school students to CEO’s.

A couple of weeks later, I (serendipitously) ran into Dick Beardsley, long-distance running turned fishing guide turned speaker. He was giving a presentation to a group up here at Sugar Lake Lodge and after I calmed down as his biggest fan (I’m a runner too, we discussed it for a solid 45 minutes) I discovered that his message of resiliency and positivity were exactly in line with the values we’re promoting through the Leadership Center. Dick’s presentation hit me at the exact right time, as I needed a boost of positivity after a particularly grueling couple of days.

Both Ann and Dick have been incredibly instrumental in the inspiration for us building activities and programs that align with our beliefs of the power of authentic experiences and that getting outside of the office gives way to discovering new leaders, thinking clearly, and rediscovering core values. A few groups with whom I helped facilitate team building activities this past week told me the two things they found the most impactful about their programs were:

  • A fresh, new environment conducive to creative thinking

  • Experiential activities that were challenging, fun, and meaningful

With that, I encourage you to find someone or something to Make Work Fun Again. I don’t suggest quitting your job and moving to Thailand per-say (though I absolutely DO condone this decision, happy to support!) but outlining a process to get you, your team, or your entire company on a more creative, productive path is an excellent first step. There is abounding research available on the benefits of nature for our mental health, including the creativity boost that comes from even a fifteen minute walk outside. Collaborate with others, connect with people who inspire you, seek clarity in the work you do and, above all, find that creative spark and ignite it.

Empowering Introverted Leaders

 
Ellen Ripley, the most BA Introvert to ever Introvert

Ellen Ripley, the most BA Introvert to ever Introvert

 

Empowering Introverted Leaders

IF ELLEN RIPLEY doesn’t come to mind as the most prolific called-to-action introverted leader of all time, then you need to rewatch the original Alien like, yesterday. I have a certain fascination with Sigourney Weaver — don’t ask why, it’s a long weird story — and this role in particular comes to mind every time the topic of introverts vs. extroverts arises. In the film, Ellen Ripley (or just Ripley, because she’s that flippin’ cool) was set up as a background character. Only when everyone lost their minds did Ripley step up into a leadership role and transformed into the hero everyone needed. She was calm and collected in stressful situations. She listened intently, processed internally, and often made quick decisions without hesitation. She’s also incredibly trustworthy because she actually cares. She was a total badass without having to explain her badassery out loud. 12-star protagonist in my opinion.

A common theme in leadership, which has been ruminated a million times over, is that the most outgoing, outspoken, seemingly extroverted people have all the capacity to be the best leaders. Business schools capitalize on it in their teachings and a lot of introvert empowerment seems to fall through the cracks. Businesses tend to assume the quiet meeting member isn’t someone of value, but rather a behind-the-scenes person. Having an ostentatious personality is praised and often associated with the highest of performance.

Susan Cain, the fairy godmother of tackling this issue, argues that modern (Western) culture undervalues the traits and capabilities of introverts. Her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking (also a Ted Talk) argues that our culture, over time, came to focus on personality instead of character, thus leading to "a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness." Essentially, we’ve grown to assume that introverts are inferior. The basis of her arguments, most notably, is that temperament is a core element of human identity. She references research in biology, psychology, neuroscience and evolution to demonstrate that introversion is both common and normal. She also mentions that some of the most notorious leaders and artists possessed this characteristic.  

I recently finished reading Shoe Dog, a memoir written by the creator of Nike, Phil Knight. I resonated with this book due to Phil’s honesty about his introverted tendencies showing up by way of daily long runs. For Knight, gaining clarity and understanding for his (at the time) non-flourishing shoe company meant planning and plotting during times of a much-need solitary six mile run. He often mentions the frustrations on behalf of his business partners and employees, as his communication wasn’t loud and boisterous — instead it was calm, collected, and often processed internally, usually during a run. Obviously, Phil Knight went on to build an empire. What we don’t see is that Nike was founded by an introverted leader with a passion for doing business his way — quietly — and with great success.

There are endless examples of distinguished leaders who exemplify traits of an introvert and yet, as a society, we continue to ostracize the quiet and reserved for the same old reason: we don’t fully understand the potential of their character.

I have personally been known to display introverted tendencies, yet most people assume I’m an extrovert. The truth is, I’m a lot of both. An ambivert, if you will. The beauty of being both gives me a specialized insight into the empowering leaders of all types. What I have found, however, is that empowering introverts in particular seems to be more of a struggle. Here are three simple ways in which to support introverts becoming leaders:

  1. One-on-One Sessions

    A former coworker I had used to DREAD our Monday morning meetings because it was a gross display of outspoken group members taking the time to public speak - something my less outspoken coworker felt the need to do. She often waited until after the meeting to speak to me or someone else about project ideas that were often times much more efficient than what was proposed. A simple one-on-one option could have saved her, and us, a lot of productivity time waster.

  2. Environment Assessment

    Open work spaces are very sexy recently due to the idea that when you put a bunch of people in the same room without dividers, the collaboration will just FLOW out them simply by proximity. Seems logical, right? Can you imagine being someone who is more reserved and more comfortable and MORE PRODUCTIVE on their own trying to work in this environment? It’s not unrealistic to ask what an employee prefers ahead of time. Just because some people want privacy doesn’t mean they aren’t a team player or working on ways to lead the organization in the right direction.

  3. Open policy to be themselves

    Giving people the opportunity and freedom to be themselves seems pretty abstract, but it’s incredibly powerful when you really put this process front of mind. Allowing people to present ideas in a way that’s comfortable for them ensures you care about what they have to say and how they want (need) to say it.

Empowering introverted leaders is beneficial to the entire organization in terms of productivity and advancement against competitors, as described in research done around successful CEOs. So why do we still, after all of this research data and confirmation of benefits of introverted leaders, have a tendency to promote the extroverted leader? The answer, in my opinion, is an incomplete understanding of how introverts work and where their leadership shines. Assessments like Emotional Intelligence (EQ), Myers-Briggs, or Insights Discovery are a great place to start with your team or group. Understanding each person’s character and personalities is a step in the right direction of listening to and empowering those around you - extroverted, introverted, or those of us who gladly accept that we are both…the elusive ambiverts.


Interested in learning more about personality types on your team? Contact me to connect with a facilitator who can enhance your next meeting with an assessment tool.